50 million Facebook Profiles Harvested in Massive Data Breach
Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm used in the Trump presidential campaign and the winning Brexit campaign, has been found to have harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters. This is one of Facebook’s biggest data breaches since the company was founded. The data gathered from these profiles was used to build a powerful software program, which was designed to predict and even influence choices at the ballet box during voting in the Republican primaries and the 2016 election.
The data breach was brought to light by whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain this private data from Facebook users. Wylie revealed that the data was taken without authorization from Facebook or its users, and was used to build a system made to develop profiles for U.S. voters. The goal was to create personalized political advertisements that would show up on users’ news feeds. The data was collected with an app called thisisyourdigitallife, which was built by Global Science Research, a company led by Aleksandr Kogan. The organization worked in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica to develop the app.
Wylie told the Observer, “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.” This system began being constructed as far back as 2014, but Facebook had no knowledge of this data mining until late 2015. Despite this, Facebook took no proper steps in alerting its users of such an unprecedented data breach, only making minimal effort in attempting to recover and secure the private information of users.
“We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data,” said Alexander Nix, Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica.
However, Wylie showed a wide collection of evidence to The Observer that refutes these claims. This evidence was passed on to several government organizations in the UK, and includes the vast amount of private information that was collected, most of which belong to U.S. voters.
Just last Friday, Facebook announced that they would be suspending Cambridge Analytica from the social media platform, pending further investigation. They also will be suspending Wylie, despite his role as a whistleblower. Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a data protection specialist who was involved in the investigation into Facebook, said, “Facebook has denied and denied and denied this. It has misled MP’s and congressional investigators and it’s failed in its duties to respect the law.” He went on to add, “It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”
This data breach scandal has not been kind to Facebook’s value, as we’re seeing Facebook stock declining for the second straight day. Shares fell another 5 percent today, with this being the worst day Facebook has seen in four years. Since word of the data breach broke to major news outlets, more than $50 billion of Facebook’s market value has been wiped off.